Tuesday, April 19, 2016

4th Circuit: Title IX Requires School Rest Room Access On Basis of Gender Identity

In a 2-1 decision today, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Virginia school board's policy barring a transgender boy (who had not undergone sex-reassignment surgery) from using the boy's rest rooms at his school violates Title IX's ban on discrimination on the basis of sex.  The school board adopted the policy in order to overturn accommodations made by a high school for the student, and which had been implemented for 7 weeks without incident.  The school board policy called instead for alternative private facilities for transgender students. Citizens speaking in favor of the school board policy at a meeting considering it expressed fears about privacy, and even expressed concern that "non-transgender boys would come to school wearing dresses in order to gain access to the girls’ restrooms."

In G.C. v. Gloucester County School Board, (4th Cir., April 19, 2016), the majority opinion written by Judge Floyd held that the U.S. Department of Education's interpretation of its own regulations is entitled to deference. A DOE interpretation concluded that when schools separate students on the basis of gender, generally schools must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.  A concurring opinion by Judge Davis suggested that the appeals court should have entered a preliminary injunction against the school board instead of remanding the case to the trial court.  Judge Niemeyer dissenting argued in part:
This unprecedented holding overrules custom, culture, and the very demands inherent in human nature for privacy and safety, which the separation of such facilities is designed to protect. More particularly, it also misconstrues the clear language of Title IX and its regulations. And finally, it reaches an unworkable and illogical result.
AP reporting on the decision quotes North Carolina Law Professor Maxine Eichner who says that the decision also impacts North Carolina's recently enacted law regulating the use of public school rest rooms by transgender individuals.  North Carolina is in the 4th Circuit.